Archive for Thursday, February 22, 2007

Biolab’s safety sparks discussion

February 22, 2007

Saturday morning, about 20 area residents braved the snow to hear legislators Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, and Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, speak at a legislative forum at Tonganoxie's VFW post home.

Wilk and Pine talked about numerous issues, one of which was the state's bipartisan interest in luring a $450 million national defense laboratory - the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility - to Kansas.

According to the Web site, nbafinkansas.org, NBAF will be a state-of-the-art federal laboratory to research and develop diagnostic capabilities for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases for the Department of Homeland Security.

Rep. Kenny Wilk, left, a Lansing Republican, shares a joke with Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence. The two appeared this past weekend at a legislative forum in Tonganoxie.

Rep. Kenny Wilk, left, a Lansing Republican, shares a joke with Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence. The two appeared this past weekend at a legislative forum in Tonganoxie.

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

"Animal health issues fit right in with a very powerful niche that we have in Kansas," Wilk said. "We have over 127 animal health companies headquartered in this area.

And, he said, Kansas State University opened last fall a new $54 million Biosecurity Research Institute to study diseases and pests that threaten animal and plant-based agricultural systems.

"It is clearly what I would call a seminal opportunity for us in our county and in our state," Wilk said of NBAF.

He noted that 18 sites in 12 states are under consideration for the site, which will serve as a replacement for the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, located off the tip of Long Island, N.Y.

Two sites in Kansas are being considered for the 500,000-square-foot facility - Manhattan and Leavenworth.

"This is not a red herring," Wilk said, noting the Plum Island facility had been in operation for 50 years.

Wilk said the facility was in need of repairs, and added, "The federal government has decided they are not going to rehab that facility."

Tonganoxie resident Mark Knipp asked Wilk about potential hazards in putting NBAF in Leavenworth County.

Knipp referred to NBAF as a "bioweapons" facility and said he was concerned about the ability to keep it secure.

"So, it is going to be a facility to house some of the most deadly diseases the world has known," Knipp said.

Pine said he had toured K-State's Biosecurity Institute and was impressed with the security measures in place.

"I understand your concerns and don't blame you," Pine said. "If I hadn't gone through the level 3 facility that I've gone through at K-State, I'd have more concerns."

Wilk said public meetings would be held and he invited Knipp to attend.

"We want to get into all this and answer everybody's questions," Wilk said.

Another matter that is of importance to a young group of area residents is the Tonganoxie third-grade class's introduction of a bill to name the bluegill Kansas' state fish. The class teacher, Karen Stockman, and her students have been working on the bill for over a year now.

Wilk said he took the bill out of what's referred to as the "death bin" and resurrected it.

"The bill is still active," he said.

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